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2005 Writers Forum
Jaime Curl ~ with curator John Mifsud

Jaime Curl is a native Washingtonian and a recent graduate of Eastern Washington University's MFA program. He works for Western Washington University's teacher preparation program and teaches English for the Seattle Community College District. His recent publications include Midwest Quarterly, LitRag, Crab Creek Review, and The Sycamore Review. Jaime Curl photo
Click on the ears below to listen to excerpts from this conversation.
photo credit:
dean wong
Read and listen to writings by Jaime Curl
Jump to excerpts from this conversation:
Personal Background Current Project Future Work (2) Outcomes
Creative Process Inspiration Juxtaposition Relationships
Writing and Media Excerpt Discussion
JM




So, welcome to the Jack Straw Writers Program. My name is John Mifsud and I'm here in the studios today with Jaime Curl. So, give our listening audience a little bit of information about you. Where did you start, and what are you doing these days, and how did you come to be a writer?
JC






Well, I grew up in Washington, I'm a native Washingtonian, and for a long time I just said that I wanted to be a writer. I always kept little journals and always said that's something I wanted to be. And about five or six years ago I kind of put that into motion, and started educating myself, and had some help from a professor at the University of Washington that got me in the right direction. And then I started writing for real and getting my stuff out there.
I was working a corporate job here in Seattle for a while and, like many big corporations, they gave us the option of laying us off and giving us a severance pay, or moving to a different part of the country. And I took that severance package and went to graduate school at Eastern Washington University, it's called the Inland Northwest Center for Writers. It was a terrific program.
JC










One of the things that really stuck out to me about the moderns, Wallace Stevens in particular, is that he believed that perception is the first part of the creative process, and I think that for my writing, I do a lot of observation-going to a bar or a café and sitting in the corner and trying to be invisible, and watching the world just continue around me-and I think that's a huge part of it. I listen to a lot of music and try to capture that kind of energy and feeling in my poetry. So I would say that it's a two-step process where the first is perception and the second is trying to harness that in some way, in a notebook or the back of a napkin or on a receipt.
JM

What about that moment of inspiration? When is that a moment that you know you have to act on?
JC








In the front of my journal I have a quote by Ernest Hemingway, of all people. He said, "I write when the spirit moves me, and I make sure it moves me every day." And one of my mentors at school, Jonathan Johnston, who's a wonderful poet also, said that you should be able to write anywhere, whether it's on a computer or in a notebook or in a crowded bus or in a hospital ward. So, I try to make sure I write whenever and wherever I can. Usually there's a triggering image that starts the poem, and then I let my subconscious take over and let the language do the work.
JM



The subjects of your poetry, the issues that you cover, tend to range, but they all seem to have some sort of basis in relationships. Would you say that that is the thing that kindles your passion the most?
Relationships



JC






I think that relationships are the key to any art form. Whether it's relationship to a craft, or a relationship to a piece of art, I think that's important. And whether it's between people or between inanimate objects, I think that relationships are the center of my work, and trying to understand it. I think one thing that I try to bring into my writing is that, by understanding the intimate, you can understand the whole.
Listen to excerpt
JM


That comes out really clearly. Why don't you share a poem with our audience so that they might have a better understanding of what you mean?
JC <reading>
JM



I really love that poem. I guess because of the sort of twist ending where you juxtapose what is a lyrical environment and a lyrical, pastoral use of words, with this-with death, sudden, cold, almost abrupt.
Juxtaposition



JC





One of the great things that Nance Van Winkel-who is also one my instructors, and a great poet-said [was] that poems are a place where ugliness and beauty can rest in the same place. And I think that tension between what is hard and gritty, and what's beautiful and pastoral and wonderful is an amazing place, and that's what brings people back to poetry.
JM

And that's what life's all about really, it's sort of containing those contradictions, isn't it? 'Cause it's both.
JC

It is, there's not a bigger contradiction than life or death, but those are things that are so closely related.
JM


So, if you had to sum up what you hope your readers get from your writing, what would you say? What do you hope you leave them with?
JC














Well, initially I would hope that they would go back to the poem and read it again. I think that art is something that people should take their time on, that they continue to come back and back again to continue to get something different out of it. And so, a poem that you read one time and get it, is not the poem I'm looking to write. We call those paper plate poems, where they're good for one use and then you can discard them. And then, in a broader sense, I hope that people somehow might pick a line or an image or something that stands out in their lives, maybe that's kind of a quest for the universal. In my poetry I hope that somebody can look at a poem and say, "Yeah, I was that boy" or, "Yeah that makes sense" or, "I've had that relationship." Or if that doesn't happen, maybe just enjoy the music of it. I think that I try to carry an ear for music into my poems, and I hope that comes through.
Listen to excerpt







JM

It certainly resonates for me. I appreciate that very much about your work. Read another, won't you?
JC <Reading: "They'll put up condos, probably">
JM



You have this body of writing now that I've enjoyed very much reading and sort of witnessing, especially your new work. And I wonder, is there something that lies up ahead for you, that you have an inkling about today?
JC









Absolutely. And you know this as a writer yourself, I think that you always are pushing for the next work. There's not a lot of room for resting on your laurels. In writing I think that it's always the next thing. I have a few publications but I have a long, long way to go. I'm working on a longer piece of work and I'd like to get a book of poems together, and I've started on a couple fiction projects. So, I would hope that writing continues to be a part of my life, and I continue to reach for new goals and new elevations in my writing.
JM So tell us about his book of poetry.
JC




I said that as soon as I had fifteen publications in national magazines I would start sending the manuscript out, and so I'm at about eleven or twelve. And so, I guess as soon as I think that the content and the form is there, I'll start sending it out to places to try to get published.
JM Do you have a name for it yet?
JC




Possibly. One of my poems is named, "All the Usual Vices," and I like that. It kind of has a ring to it-and it kind of has, I think, a lot to do with my poetry, that there's a lot of tension between the goodness and also that kind of grittiness that I talked about earlier.
JM What about the fiction, what are you working on?
JC




Well, I started working last year on a novel, and I've had a couple short stories that I really enjoyed writing, and so I'm trying to do a longer piece right now and trying to stretch it out. It feels a lot like my poetry, it's very lyric in nature, but kind of drawn out over a narrative.
JM What's the story like?
JC



Well…the same thing that my poems are about! You know, absence, and relationship, trying to find space in somebody's life. Trying to find space in your life, or the speaker's life, or extraneous things, you know.
With more and more television and video games, and multimedia things that are happening out in the world, I think that people need to embrace the people that are trying to push writing and push this art form into the community and keep it real and keep it moving and shaking.
JM





It's true that it seems like major forms of entertainment are moving away from ink on a page, and the process of the images that are conjured in your own mind's eye, and the reader's imaginative potential to flesh out the skeleton that the writer provides. The culture is moving away from that sort of literary approach to…having a good time.
JC







I think that poetry especially is in danger, because it's hard. It's hard work. It takes more work to try to flesh out a poem than just turning on the television or playing a video game, because there's layers, and poetry is, over the last century, slowly becoming a forgotten art form in schools, and in communities. And that's a scary thing as a poet, because I think it has a very important place in our culture. It does a very important job with language that not a lot of other art forms do.
JM

So read us another poem, that we might be inspired to stick with the stuff.
JC Okay.
<reading>
JM

So, I assume that, maybe something has been left unsaid. If you have some closing words for us…?
JC















I think that a lot of people think poetry is either something that is arcane, or something that is too difficult either to read or to write. And I guess one of the things that I've learned over my short, short journey so far, and hopefully a longer journey into the future, is that poetry is something that can be learned. I think that if we're perceptive and take in the world, whether it's the way that the Sound sounds on days like today when it's windy out, or the way that the trees talk to each other, or, whatever it is-if you're perceptive about the world and can try to harness that into some sort of creative energy, then poetry is something that is very doable. I guess I would encourage people to pick up a pen and try their hand at poetry. It's a beautiful art form. We use and abuse language every day just in our normal conversations, and poetry is a way to make it clean, you know, exert some kind of pressure on the language so that it's new again. And that's a big thing.
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Read and listen to writings by Jaime Curl
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